Met anybody lately who goes by a colorful nickname? And no, hip hop stars don’t count. I’m not talking about public figures, and I’m interested in nicknames a little more old-fashioned than Lil’ Kim or Ice Trey.
A while back, I posted a piece about the grand, ongoing Southern tradition of family-name first names. I talked about growing up in south Mississippi among men and boys whose names sounded like law firms or brokerages, fellows like Lunsford Casey, Larkin Davis and Devours Yelverton.
I also grew up alongside men — and a few women — whose given names had long since been eclipsed by sobriquets bestowed upon them by family or friends. They were known by their nicknames.
There was a well-liked banker in my hometown, a skeletal fellow by the name of Boney Childress.
My Babe Ruth League baseball coach was Snerd Wooten, so named for his resemblance to ventriloquist Edgar Bergen’s dummy Mortimer Snerd.
My mom played bridge with sparrow-like Birdie Petrosky, and one of my schoolmates’ mom was called Beanie, apparently because she was tall and lanky. I have no idea what her real name was.
Just down the road from them lived Booboo Rawson who, thanks to his youthful haplessness, got stuck with that moniker before Yogi Bear’s sidekick ever appeared on our black-and-white Zeniths. Another neighbor boy named Burgess was known as Bucky. He had prominent front teeth like a certain toothpaste-pushing beaver on TV.
I knew a passel of Reds and Buddys, a Champ and a Spec, a Squeaky and a Moon. The latter’s last name was Mullins. Almost every guy back then whose last name was Mullins got called Moon because of the comic-strip character, just as guys named Rhodes ended up Dustys.
My hometown’s crack police force included an imposing constable named Hamburger Harrison and an officer everybody called “Dago” Lee. People thought he looked Italian.
The owner of Nub’s Steak House, as my mother reminded me and my brother many a time, had lost his left hand because he drove with his arm hanging out the window of his Pontiac.
“Fats” Harveston announce the local stock-car races.
One of my uncles, a used-car dealer barely 5-feet tall, was known as Shorty, as was the most successful pharmacist in town.
What I’m curious about is where all the nicknames went. Granted, it may just be that I don’t get around like I used to. The USA may still be crawling with guys everybody calls Shine or Whitey or Skeebo (and yes, I do know a Skeebo). But I suspect not, and my gut instinct, given that so many of these appellations are related to a physical trait, is that it has to do with our having become more sensitive to people’s feelings in the past few decades.
Anybody got any other ideas, post away. Just call me Nosey.